A Polemic on the Dangers of Feminist Anti-Intellectualism

Jules Bourbeau ’25

Managing Editor

We’ve all heard the jokes online: Two croutons and a cheese stick are “girl dinner.” It’s okay to spend cash on your “silly little treat” because it is not “real money.” Besides, aren’t you “too hot” to understand economics, anyways? 

I worry that this trend is, at a low level, spawning a wave of feminism that is profoundly anti-intellectual. But before I continue, I must address some counterpoints. Yes, I am a man (sorry). You would be right to say that I am not exactly the most qualified to speak on this issue. I do think, however, that as a transgender man, my childhood spent as a girl gives me a stronger insight into how American society treats girls and women than most men have. Male though I am, I intend only to gently put forth my opinion into the pile of discourse before hastily running back to my own business.

I would also agree, as many have rebutted, that these jokes are not that serious. Certainly, they are far from the most pressing issue facing women today. Nevertheless, humor is not only shaped by, but subsequently shapes our values and the values of those around us. It is important for everyone to interrogate themselves and ask: What am I trying to say with this joke? How do I want people to perceive it? What do other people actually hear? 

I understand that the intended humor behind “girl math” et al. lies in hyperbolically leaning into stereotypes about unintelligent and helpless women. The danger lies in the tricky line between satirically subverting stereotypes and embracing them. I see this trend as the spiritual successor to a philosophy I refer to as “eyeliner so sharp it can kill a man” feminism (itself a subset of “choice feminism”), defined by its open embrace of beauty standards used to oppress and subjugate women – but it is “okay” because this time women are choosing to. However, in a society still ruled by patriarchy, how can we be so certain that doing exactly what the dominant power structures want us to do is actually a product of free will? As Catharine MacKinnon famously stated, “Women live in sexual objectification like fish live in water.”

Another explanation I have heard behind the humor is that it is a rebellion against the pressure put on women to rise to the impossible standard of constant work. In this sense, it is a reaction against the previous feminist microtrend of “girlbossing.” The compulsion towards productivity is not unique to women, however. The phenomenon that they are really noticing is simply the superstructure of capitalism at work. 

The inclusion of women in capitalist labor on a more obvious level (for they were always part of the system, whether laboring in the dubiously-defined public or private spheres) is, in some way, not a victory, since it merely extended the “opportunity” of capitalistic exploitation to women. It is understandable, therefore, to idealize a life for oneself in which the cultivation of beauty is the only goal, in which passivity and incompetence might save you from the horrors of the workforce. It has never been labor itself that is the problem, though; it is the private control of production for profit. Individuals cannot “opt out” of the capitalist system by not working.

If anything, this trend, particularly “girl math,” feeds into capitalism by encouraging thoughtless consumerism. It is a way of justifying careless spending, which is particularly harmful when the products in question are further intended to exploit women’s insecurities and feed into beauty standards, such as the components of a 14-step skincare routine. Consumerism can never be a means to liberation, not only because it is feeding money directly back into the systems that harm us, but also because it is inherently an individualist endeavor. You cannot buy your way into supporting a community.

If you take anything from this article, it is not that I want everyone to stop engaging in these jokes. Although, like most leftists, my primary source of joy is to prevent others from having fun by labeling their every enjoyment problematic (I hope you recognize my sarcasm here), it is not my place to tell women what they can and cannot say about themselves. I do want you to question, however, on whom the joke is played. Does it become subversive to say that women are incapable when the woman in question is yourself? Although these jokes are not intended for men, they still hear you make them. When they do, do you trust that they will recognize the satire behind the humor? Look at the comments on any woman’s sarcastic post or video and you will see that men are more willing to assume that she is straightforwardly stupid than to entertain the notion that she might just be funny

Of course, it is never women’s fault for the way that men twist and misinterpret their words. Nevertheless, self-deprecation, whether ironic or not, will start to hurt eventually. Maybe we should stop making fun of ourselves so much and put our energy into making fun of our oppressors. Us men certainly deserve to have some pushback. That many men break into panegyrics when criticized in the slightest (see the responses to a certain previous Opinion article…) tells me that we are overdue for being made the butt of the joke.

The next time you feel the urge to joke about your “girl math,” ask yourself: What would Ada Lovelace think? I suspect that she would not appreciate the combination of womanhood and math being associated with dubious financial decisions. The label of “girl” (or the less infantilizing choice of “woman”) should be a point of pride and distinction, not a diminishing qualifier.

In closing, I urge everyone of all genders to read the feminist works of our foremothers, particularly second and third-wave feminists. Some of it does not hold up today, but there is plenty worth learning from. Taking the lead of Simone de Beauvoir, we must reject and transcend beyond the artificial restraints of biology, history and socialization.

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours